A vast majority of people put a great deal of thought and care into deciding whether to get a cat or a dog – but often the same amount of consideration doesn’t go into deciding whether to get a pet rabbit.
As well as being the UK’s third most popular pet, rabbits are also amongst the most neglected. The Scottish RSPCA rescued more than 700 abandoned rabbits last year, but warns that many more are living miserable lives in lonely hutches.
Petplan takes a look at how you can avoid the many pitfalls of rabbit ownership and ensure your pet lives a happy, contented life…
Why regular exercise is vital for your rabbit
It’s important to note that most people who are neglecting their rabbit don’t even realise that they are doing it – neglect doesn’t necessarily mean leaving it cold, or hungry, or dirty, but simply not giving it enough attention. Wild rabbits live in warrens of a hundred or more rabbits, meaning they crave company.
Boredom and depression frequently occur in lonely rabbits.
To ensure your rabbit doesn’t become depressed, you should first make sure that their hutch is big enough. Consult with your pet store to help decide what size hutch your pet needs.
In the wild, rabbits can roam around an area as large as 30 football fields, and therefore yours should be allowed out daily to run around.
Petplan vet, Brian Faulkner, says: “As long as they have access to shelter and water and are safe from predators then the more exercise rabbits can get the better.
“Rabbits need to move their legs as part of stimulating and aiding their digestion. In short; let the rabbit decide by giving them as much access to open space as possible – they will rest if they need to.”
You need to make sure that your rabbit has enough stimulation. You don’t have to spend lots of money on toys, as rabbits will be happy with toilet roll tubes, cardboard boxes with holes cut in them, or stools or small chairs for them to jump on and off.
You can also try hiding their food in their hay for extra stimulation, as in the wild they would forage for food.
Should you feed your rabbit fruit and vegetables?
With summer coming to an end, many people are now reaping the rewards of growing their own fruit and vegetables.
Your rabbit can share in this abundance of fresh produce right? Unfortunately, the answer is more complicated than it may first appear.
Grass and hay make up the most important part of a rabbit’s diet and should comprise between 80 and 90% of it.
Rabbits can also be given a handful of leafy vegetables daily – all washed beforehand of course – which can include parsley, sprouts and celery leaves.
Brian Faulkner also recommends allowing your rabbit to get munching on plenty of grass when out of their hutch: “Picking at grass is much better for the teeth than eating cereals from a bowl so let them tuck in when they are playing in your garden.”
They may also take to herbs such as basil and coriander and will happily eat weeds from your garden such as nettle and clover.
However, despite what you may have learned from Bugs Bunny, rabbits don’t naturally eat fruit and vegetables. Things such as carrots contain a lot of sugar meaning an excess can cause an upset stomach, so should only be given as an occasional treat.
Meanwhile, there are various very common plants such as foxglove, rhubarb and poppies that are extremely poisonous and should be kept away from your bunny. A comprehensive list of plants that are toxic to rabbits can be found on the Rabbit Awareness Week website.
As always, when it comes to dietary considerations, consult with your vet and make sure you are feeding your rabbit the right food for their specific needs.
How to stop boredom in rabbits and keep them mentally stimulated
As previously mentioned, rabbits are highly social animals and crave company and attention.
To help stop your rabbit becoming lonely and potentially depressed, you should interact with it at least once a day.
You can do things like play fetch, while they also like knocking down things, so a set of bowling pins can provide hours of amusement. If the rabbit is allowed into the house regularly, or lives in the home as a house bunny, then it will likely follow you around, snuggle at your feet and can even sleep in your bed.
Of course, getting another rabbit is a popular way to ensure yours gets the companionship they need.
Loving relationships between male/female partners and same sex pairs are usual and once the bond between two rabbits has been made, they’re rarely out of each other’s sight – they will groom each other, eat together and sleep side-by-side.
The flip side of this is that rabbits grieve very deeply and, when one of the pair passes away, it can lead to illness and potentially even death for the other. This can be solved by introducing more pets to the dynamic. Getting three rabbits instead of two can help your pets cope with any losses although, of course, you need to ensure you are able to give all the rabbits the care and attention they need.
How to introduce a new rabbit to your existing pet
If you do decide to get more than one rabbit, then integrating them successfully can take a lot of time and effort. Here are some of the things you need to consider…
- The first thing to consider is always neutering and spaying – especially if you have a male and female rabbit – . Most people know that a male rabbit plus a female rabbit equals lots of little bunnies, but even in single sex pairings, getting both partners neutered is still highly recommended, as the lack of hormones will mean less aggression in both sexes.
- When you first bring your new rabbit home, place it in a cage adjoining your existing rabbit’s cage or hutch. Once they become comfortable with each other, then they should start touching noses through the bars and interacting with each other.
- Eventually they will be ready to meet face-to-face. This can take days or even weeks depending on how they react to each other – use your own judgement and knowledge of your pets to decide when it is best to start the process.
- Do the face-to-face introduction on a neutral, unfamiliar territory, such as a bathroom or a clean garage. Wear gardening gloves so that you can separate them if they fight. One rabbit will usually assert itself over the other, approaching the other one and sniffing, circling it and potentially trying to mount it.
- This first meeting should only be between 10 and 20 minutes. But each day extend it a bit longer. When they start grooming each other and laying down side by side, your rabbits are now bonded and can move in together permanently!
Take a look at Petplan’s comprehensive range of rabbit care guides to give you the complete picture on how to look after your rabbit.
What are your top tips for looking after a rabbit? Let us know your stories below…